Inside Infinite – August 2021
Welcome to the latest edition of Inside Infinite – the blog series where we sit down with the teams hard at work building Halo Infinite, to give you more insight into our process and goals than ever before.
This month you’re joining us fresh off the heels of Gamescom, where we had the opportunity to reveal our launch date of December 8, 2021, along with the Xbox Series X – Halo Infinite Limited Edition Bundle, the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 – Halo Infinite Limited Edition, and of course - our Multiplayer Season 1 Cinematic Intro, where you'll meet Spartan Commander Agryna:
This time around we’ve got a lot to cover, thanks to the Multiplayer and Bots Teams. But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t kick off the blog with a quick word on the most recent Technical Preview, directly from the folks you heard talk to it on the stream.
If this is your first time checking out an Inside Infinite, we’re glad to have you! And, when you get the time, we’d highly recommend checking out our previous editions, to hear directly from the teams building the next chapter of Halo:
Now, it’s time to dive on in. First up, we’ll hear from the folks that introduced you to the Tech Preview during our overview stream, then the Multiplayer Team chats with us in-depth for their goals when designing Halo Infinite, and after that you’ll hear from the Bots Team to learn all about their process, and why their creations can throw grenades so well.
Now, without further ado...
TECH PREVIEW REVIEW
A scant few weeks back, from Thursday July 29th to August 2nd, Halo Insiders jumped onto the very first publicly available servers for Halo Infinite as a part of the Technical Preview – a chance for us to kick the tires of our backend systems, and a chance for you to put Halo Infinite through its paces. To preface the entire event, we ran a live stream that provided all the finer details of what was in the build, showed you some live gameplay across Xbox One and Xbox Series X – and, of course, a chance to hear from some of the folks that are working on the game itself. For those that missed the full stream, it can be viewed right here:
You all took the assignment very seriously and piled in to help us out, by slaying as many Bots as you possibly could. For those that are hungry for an after-action report, here’s a look back at the carnage:
A quick rundown of the carnage from the Halo Infinite Tech Preview. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Sam Hanshaw, Jerry Hook, and Tom French all sat down with us on-stream to talk through some of what they were most excited for during the Tech Preview – speaking to flighting, overall design, and multiplayer respectively. We were able revisit them here on the tail end of the preview, to hear a bit more about what excited them the most, what caught them off-guard, and any other tidbits that they were interested in circling back on:
With this being the first public flight for Halo Infinite, how did it go from your perspective as a Producer for the Live Team? What caught you off guard or surprised you?
Sam Hanshaw, Live Team Producer: Maybe an unpopular answer but the biggest successes for me were the problems we hit while delivering this flight. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who experienced problems during the flight and stuck with it, with special appreciation for the folks who submitted support tickets to highlight bugs they found
I know a lot of people had problems connecting to matches, and we were surprised that some people couldn’t play matches at all. But that’s why we flight, y’all out there who joined us brought so many new hardware configurations to our testing, new network conditions, and of course the simple scale of testing that we needed. The biggest things we worry about aren’t the things that happen to 5% of players, we can usually find and address those issues. The worst are the ones that happen to one player in one thousand. So that’s why we invited hundreds of thousands of you to play, and I’m thrilled that you showed up and helped us find those one in one thousand bugs.
From your perspective as Head of Design and someone working closely with the Live and Customization Teams, what’s your take on our first Tech Preview? How’d it go, and were there any particular surprises or unexpected outcomes?
Jerry Hook, Head of Design: It was great to hear and see the excitement over our first taste of customization content being shown in the Technical Preview. The love for our prosthetics, the investments for players to customize their Spartan’s look, and our new Personal AI systems seem to have landed very positively with our players. It is always great to hear a call for more at this early stage of the game, even before we release. Also, I saw lots of love for being able to earn items outside the Battle Pass, since earned gear is not just focused on one track or activity. We did have some issues however with our challenge system in the Tech Preview, so I want to make sure to clarify some of those details:
- First off, I want to correct my own language when discussing the Battle Pass all-up. In our live stream I stated that the Battle Pass system will always have free and paid rewards available at each tier, this statement is incorrect for our launch Battle Pass. Our goal is to still provide great value to players for their time spent playing Halo, whether they choose to go the premium route by purchasing the Battle Pass, or by unlocking the incremental Battle Pass items that are available for free. So, while there isn't a free reward at every tier, there will be numerous free rewards to acquire across the entirety of a season's Battle Pass. (And yes, we are still allowing you keep your Battle Passes once the season is over – they will not expire.)
- Our challenge system had some issues in the preview that hit a few players and prevented forward progress on their Battle Pass. Our first issue was that we failed to cull the challenge decks of challenges that could not be completed with Bot-only matches. This caused players to get blocked behind these challenges and is not our intent for launch.
- We also missed some tuning for our daily challenges that caused them to not to refresh. This also caused players to get blocked as they would run out of daily challenges.
- Lastly, we just wanted everyone to remember that for the Technical Preview we had expedited XP earn rates to help players get through the pass in the short window for the preview.
Using challenges, our goal is that you will always be earning progress in your Battle Pass through playing and winning matches. This will allow you to always jump into a game of Halo and make progress on your goals.
Having now seen a huge pool of players dive in and kick the tires of the Tech Preview, what are your thoughts as the Multiplayer Associate Creative Director? Did anything happen that surprised you? Anything that hasn’t happened within the walls of a 343 playtest lab?
Tom French, Multiplayer Associate Creative Director: I definitely saw players do some crazy things with the Equipment (particularly the Grappleshot) that I’d yet to see in our playtests! It’s one of the joys about building a game where the core is so centered around a sandbox that empowers a lot of player creativity like ours. I think giving players first “hands-on-stick” time against Bots reduced some of the pressure of fighting players in Arena and let everyone experiment with the inputs a lot. Our Sandbox Team has done an amazing job building a suite of mechanics that lets players express themselves and our job as the Multiplayer Team is to build modes, maps, and systems that facilitate ways of drawing players together to create interesting conflicts. It’s going to be fascinating to see all the ways people will use all the toys we give them to play with at launch and see what they do when we introduce new ones into the mix to change things up over the life of Infinite!
Thank you, Sam, Tom, and Jerry for jumping back in to chat with us one more time! And to those of you that want to make sure you’re on board next time we’re prepare to flight – ensure that your Halo Insider profile fully filled out, you’re opted in to communications, and that you have your DxDiag uploaded (if you’re on PC). Then, we’ll reach out once we’ve got something new on the way.
Now that you’ve had a chance to see (and for some of you, to play) an early look at Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, it’s time to hear a bit more from the team building the backbone behind every experience in Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer experience. Back during our multiplayer reveal we chatted with a few of these folks in the Halo Infinite Multiplayer Overview, but now seems like a fitting time to circle back and chat with them once more.
A Spartan with the VK78 Commando. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Hello there, Multiplayer Team! Who are you and what do you do here at 343 Industries?
Tom French, Multiplayer Associate Creative Director: Yo! I’m Tom French. I’m responsible for overseeing our Multiplayer Design Team and shepherding the Multiplayer vision of Halo Infinite.
Andrew Witts, Lead Multiplayer Designer: Hey, everyone! My name is Andrew Witts and I am the Lead Multiplayer Designer on Halo Infinite. My team and I work on things like Game Modes and systems such as Personal AI, the Mark System, Item Spawners, Medals, and more!
Cayle George, Lead Multiplayer Level Designer: My name is Cayle George and I wrangle all things maps for Multiplayer. Our talented Level Designers and I are responsible for creating all the exciting levels and combat arenas in Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer experience.
Alex Bean, Multiplayer Designer: Hey all, my name is Alex Bean. I’m a Multiplayer Designer working on features including Personal AI, Item Spawners, Death Cam/Spectate, Match Flow, the Mark System, and Medals. I also had a hand in designing a few maps.
Patrick Wren, Senior Multiplayer Designer: Hello everyone! My name is Patrick Wren and I am a Senior Multiplayer Designer working on the voice-over systems and partnering with Alex on Personal AI. I have also been designing in-map systems like the Pelican Delivery System.
David Ellis, Senior Multiplayer Designer: Hi everyone! I’m David Ellis, and I am a Senior Multiplayer Designer on Halo Infinite. I’m focused on helping delivery the Academy suite of features which includes our Tutorial, Weapon Drills and Training Mode.
Sara Stern, Multiplayer Bots Designer: I’m Sara Stern and I’m a Multiplayer Designer working on Halo Infinite. I’m primarily focused on developing the multiplayer Bots, although I’ve also worked on the Tutorial for the Academy.
When approaching Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, what were some of your most crucial design pillars?
Tom French: There were three Multiplayer wide pillars we established early in development that still hold really true to what we are today:
- The Player Spartan is Halo Canon – We want players to feel invested in their Spartans and part of that is making them be part of the bigger Halo universe. This led to the world wanting to feel more grounded to reduce “game-y-ness” without compromising gameplay.
- Extensibility at the Core – Modes, systems, and everything we built for Infinite to be modular and expandable over the lifespan of the game. This enables us to recontextualize parts of one game mode quickly to stand-up new mode prototypes for future Seasons. The long-term benefit is this also helps us extend this beyond our internal team and into our community development tools by exposing these various components through Forge and Custom Games settings to empower the community to build more content that feels more “real” alongside things built by our team at 343.
- Always Onboarding – Playing online is intimidating for many and difficult to master. It was important for us to develop an evergreen onramp of features into online play that we refer to the Academy. Starting with the Tutorial, players start their journey; joining the ranks as a Halo Spartan to learn the basic mechanics. Through additional features like Weapon Drills, Training Mode, and the Players vs. Bot playlist, players always have fun and “safe” ways to practice and explore Infinite before they’re ready to jump in boot-first into matchmaking.
Andrew Witts: The design pillars are different based on our two big experiences: Arena (4v4) and Big Team Battle (12v12). We created different pillars because we felt that they had design goals based on player expectations. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on the Arena, and we’ll save Big Team Battle for next time!
The design pillars for Arena are:
- Fair Starts – Players start the match as equals with balanced gameplay mechanics.
- The Lone Wolf Survives but the Pack Thrives – Players can achieve individually through skill expression, but the team with better coordination, communication, and reactivity will seize the most victories.
- Mastery = Mechanical Depth + Tactical Decision-making – A match with two teams of equal skill should be determined by the team’s tactical decision making as the game mode’s state is altered by player action.
- Game Mode Clarity – The modes in Halo Infinite’s Arena communicate their game states efficiently and urgently to bolster the tactical decision-making required for a player’s path to mastery over the Arena experience.
- Power is Earned and Impermanent – Scavenging pushes teams to contest the acquisition of items within the Halo sandbox. Any item that can be earned can also be taken away through combat resolution, positioning, and tactical actions.
An exterior view of Live Fire, a map for Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
It’s been a few weeks since the Halo Infinite Tech Preview closed its proverbial doors. What’s been on your plate since that weekend of testing concluded?
Tom French: There hasn’t really been any time to stop, we’re always thinking about the next target ahead of us on the road to launching Infinite. The next big thing is getting our upcoming preview dialed in and buttoned up for players to dig into; grinding down all the little details we can to make sure the game delivers on the gameplay we’ve been working on all this time. It’s equal parts exciting, terrifying, and exhausting all at once!
Andrew Witts: I’ve mainly been going through all the data that we’ve received from all our feedback channels. The team has been spending a lot of time celebrating the positive ‘heartbeats’ on some features and coming up with solutions to some of the improvement areas we’ve identified based on player feedback.
Since then, the world has really had a chance to sink its teeth into every single frame of the gameplay they’ve come across. Did the community pick up on anything that surprised you?
Andrew Witts: I’m surprised at how fast the community found all the Halo references we put into the experience so far. (There’s more!) I also really enjoyed the players’ reactions to the more flavorful lines from the Personal AI that play when players do something particularly awesome.
Patrick Wren: I was really surprised by how evenly distributed each Personal AI was a favorite to someone. While I enjoy them all for different reasons, I had no idea how much each one would resonate, but it was great to see them all get love.
Alex Bean: I had a blast watching the community happen upon new Medals. We put a lot of work into a suite of Medals that would complement the game’s sandbox by telling the player, “Yes, you just did that!” It was great to see players discovering Medals that highlighted new mechanics (“Off the Rack”, “Deadly Catch”) as well as classic maneuvers (“Ninja”, “360”).
With the Spartan Academy and Bots being core features of Halo Infinite, how does that play into your multiplayer design philosophy? Does this open up any new opportunities?
David Ellis: From day one a core axiom we’ve used for the Academy was to “Give players a safe space to learn how to Halo.” After 20 years there’s a lot of institutional knowledge in the franchise that, for more experienced players, is second nature and doesn’t require a second thought. We’re focused on ensuring all the modes, tools, etc., we create will allow any players – regardless of experience – to hone their Halo skills. We were gratified to see the community response to the slice of Weapon Drills in the recent Tech Preview and can’t wait till players get the opportunity to explore more facets of the Academy in the future.
Sara Stern: We don’t see playing against Bots as a separate experience from multiplayer, but rather a tool we can use to allow more people to have fun playing the game. We spent a lot of time working on making the Bot experience feel like playing against players, so that the skills you practice against Bots are skills you can use in regular matchmaking. Sometimes you also just want a little more control over how your multiplayer experience goes: if you’re new and trying to get the basics down, or an experienced player who had a long day and doesn’t want to fully lean forward, Bots are there to give you more options for how you play multiplayer.
Tom French: Bots originally started with the desire to give players something “safe” to learn against and backfill players in matches. They’re a core component to our Academy feature suite to support an “evergreen” way to onboard players into our gameplay. The Academy and playing our game modes is really just the beginning of what will be possible with them. Their presence affords us new tools to explore new game modes and UGC experiences not possible in previous Halo games.
When creating a cross-platform experience like Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, what are some of the biggest design considerations/design challenges? Or, balance challenges?
Andrew Witts: Being cross-platform is super exciting for us in general. A particular challenge that we faced on the MP Team was around readability for new players in general. We looked at a lot of legacy designs and we tried to both modernize them as well as make them more accessible to new players without losing too much of their feel. An example of this is in our game mode design. For modes, we tried to add an additional level of clarity about what players should do off the rip with Personal AI “kick-off” lines that describe the mode in a concise manner. We’ve also added mode-specific scoreboards to many of our game modes in order to better explain game mode states to newcomers. This is the first time Halo has made completely unique scoreboards for modes and we’re excited to get some feedback on how they are functioning for our players when they see them in upcoming flights.
The MA40 Assault Rifle from Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Expanding on the tried-and-true Halo experience seems like a mighty challenge to overcome. When looking at things like Personal AI, how do you add extra things into the margins without encroaching on the existing multiplayer formula?
Alex Bean: We looked for opportunities to take existing features and give them a big “Halo” coat of paint. An example of this is with Personal AI. Halo 5 had a voice in your head that talked about incoming Power Weapons and players have always captured zones in modes like Strongholds by standing in them. But this is Halo, and you’re a Spartan! Instead, a Personal AI is now delivering that information and “hacking” zones, giving players their own Master Chief/Cortana dynamic within multiplayer. Another example is our approach to the camera in MP. Now at match start or when you die, the camera transitions to and from your helmet instead of simply cutting, just as it does in the Halo Infinite campaign. And when you spectate a teammate driving a Warthog, you’ll see the camera mounted to the vehicle much like a cutscene from Halo: Reach.
We also wanted to take mechanics that were hidden knowledge or skills and surface them to the greater player base. Inspired by the dynamic weapon racks featured in the original Halo 2 teaser (and later in the game’s opening mission), all items (weapons, grenades, etc.) now spawn from physical objects in the world, marking the location of the spawn and informing players of their remaining respawn time. Instead of only being able to call out “3 enemies, Top Mid” via voice chat, players can now Mark those enemies and communicate the same information.
Patrick Wren: When looking to expand the Halo experience, I look at how things can really punctuate what is already there. Like Alex said, the Personal AI was the desire to get that buddy informational experience that you get with Cortana in the Campaign. When talking about what that would look like and where the current state of the story is, the “Dumb AI” made a lot of sense to be the way to mass produce with Spartans and not be influenced by Cortana. It was important for us to give players a variety to choose from to dial in their Halo experience.
Player feedback is a critical element of our process – and, during the Tech Preview we had a solid amount of it. What are some of the bigger items the Multiplayer Team is working on now as a result of that?
Andrew Witts: One area of focus for me lately has been on analyzing player sentiment around what we’ve been calling the “Combat Sensor” or as everyone has been calling it, “Radar”. We knew that the implementation we had for the Tech Preview was going to feel different, maybe even a little contentious, which is why we wanted to get feedback on it as soon as possible. We’ve heard all the feedback and we have a new iteration that will be in the next preview which will be more in-line with players’ expectations.
Alex Bean: There was a healthy mixture of known bugs going into the flight and new surprises – the Match Intro camera operator had many 1,000 lbs. Spartans tumble in their direction. We’re actively trying to polish up those Match Flow issues. And while our Medal animations weren’t playing correctly in the Tech Preview, sentiment on Medal visuals has been heard and our UI team is investigating addressing some of that feedback. Lastly, it was helpful to see what resonated most with our players to inform areas of growth as we look beyond launch.
Patrick Wren: The feedback on the VO systems was greatly appreciated. You try and tune as much as you can in development, but there is nothing like seeing it in the wild to get the clear picture.
The biggest pain point we saw were some lines and events repeating more than expected for both Spartans and Personal AI. Spartans in particular really wanted to make sure you looked “Over Yonder.” We identified the biggest pain points and added a buffer so that the same events aren’t commented on over and over.
For Personal AI, the biggest request we saw was the ability to preview their voices. Good news, we have already had that for a bit and is primed and ready to go the next time you all get your hands on the game.
David Ellis: For Weapons Drills we’ve already added and adjusted a few items which should improve the experience for everyone. We heard you loud and clear (cough… Bulldog 3) and tweaked target ranges in a few drills so they don’t tread outside the intended range for too long. We also saw some opportunities to improve readability with targets and introduce new target behaviors so be on the lookout for those in the future.
Sara Stern: We identified a number of Bot behaviors we wanted to improve coming out of the Technical Preview, but two areas of focus for us have been rebalancing our difficulty tuning and improving how well Bots prioritize contesting powerful weapons on map. The difference between Spartan and ODST Bots should feel like a significant increase in difficulty, which wasn’t a target we hit in the Technical Preview build. They also ran in a pack to all try and get the same weapon at once – we're exploring solutions for getting them to spread out and search for weapon pickups without competing with one another.
What are some of your favorite parts of Halo Infinite’s Multiplayer? Anything that’s caught you off guard, personally?
Tom French: I love how the game feels classic and modern at the same time. In a way it’s the fantasy of what you remember playing back in the day. You pick up the controller and the gameplay feels like getting to know an old friend again; they’ve changed and grown but the core of who they are is still there. The gameplay is very much indexing on classic Halo tropes of fair starts and map control, but with new twists and enhancements to make it feel more modern. You can Scan to find weapon locations, you can Mark enemies, weapons, etc., for teammates, and the world of the Player Spartan feels more cohesive in the larger Halo universe.
Andrew Witts: I have a lot of favorite things in Halo MP! I think what I’m most happy with is how everything feels authentically Halo. We spent a lot of time trying to really hone our features to meet player expectations not just in terms of their output gameplay-wise but also fantasy-wise. Everything must own up to the razor of “Is this Halo enough?” Using this razor helped us not only differentiate what makes Halo MP different from other free to play games but also own up to what our existing player-base expects from us.
David Ellis: I would regret it if I didn’t take this opportunity to give a shout out to the team responsible for bringing our vehicles to life in Halo Infinite. Nothing is more quintessentially Halo to me, than battling across of map when a buddy skids to a stop alongside and honks their horn for you to jump into their Warthog. There’s no way to predict the outcome in most Halo skirmishes, but if you’re in a Warthog there’s a very good chance cheers and/or laughter will ensue.
Patrick Wren: I love how we built our systems so we can really fine-tune and expand each experience. We can have a very tightly tuned competitive experience and have a much more dynamic experience in BTB. It makes me excited for the future and what the community does with these systems in Custom Games.
A Spartan goes into battle with the MA40 in Live Fire, a map for Halo Infinite. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
Alex Bean: I’m surprised how good it feels to move and shoot in the game. The Sandbox Team made some great enhancements to how smooth and responsive the controls feel while preserving a Halo feel. And the weapons are a ton of fun – all my favorites are brand new for Infinite. Getting a “Perfect” with the VK78 Commando or nailing the “one, two, DEAD” firing cadence of the Mangler is immensely satisfying.
Thank you so much to the Multiplayer Team for taking some time to sit with us and talk through everything from design pillars, to what you enjoyed most from the Tech Preview! If you’re reading all of this and wish you could get in on the fun – worry not, it’s not too late! Sign-up to be a Halo Insider today, get your profile fully filled out, and if you’re on PC make sure you’ve got your DxDiag uploaded.
Up next, we get to hang out with Sara a bit more – along with a few more of her teammates over on the Bots Team, who recently had their hard work go head-to-head with Halo Insiders over the course of the Tech Preview weekend.
During our recent Tech Preview for Halo Infinite, the Bots took center stage. Over the course of the weekend players went toe-to-toe with Marine, ODST, and Spartan Bots – all of whom were busy putting players through the paces and landing some next-level grenades.
We had the chance to sit down with the Bots Team to hear more about their goals when they set out to make Bots in the first place, their process for how they’re able to build sentience from the ground-up – and, some of what excited them the most when they saw their hard work put on display against hundreds of thousands of Halo Insiders.
Hello there, Bots Team! It’s your turn to rock the mic - who are you, and what do you do here at 343 Industries?
Brie Chin-Deyerle, Senior Lead Gameplay Engineer (she/her): Hi! I’m Brie, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m a Senior Gameplay Engineer with the Multiplayer Team. I’m currently the engineering lead for Academy and Bots, so a lot of my days are spent adding features, fixing bugs, and helping the team do their best work.
Sara Stern, Multiplayer Bots Designer (she/her): I’m Sara Stern and I’m a Multiplayer Designer. I’m primarily focused on developing the multiplayer Bots, although I’ve also worked on the Tutorial for the Academy.
Ilana Franklin, Gameplay Engineer (she/her): I’m Ilana Franklin. I’m a Gameplay Engineer on the Multiplayer Team, and I spend most of my time on Bots.
Hollis Lehv, Gameplay Engineer (she/her): I’m Hollis Lehv, and I am a Gameplay Engineer on the Multiplayer Team at 343. I have been working mostly on Bots!
How did Bots in Halo Infinite come to be? What need did they fulfill?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: Bots have been something the studio has aspired to do for a long time. We knew we wanted a welcoming place for new and returning players of all skills levels to get familiar with the sandbox, warm up before a match, and just have some fun. We felt Bots could help us with all those goals. We started working on prototypes after we shipped Halo 5 and have been iterating over time to what you played against in the Technical Preview.
What were the very first design conversations like?
Sara Stern: At first, we were primarily focused on getting something working in-game that could move and shoot. After we completed initial prototypes, we took a step back and compared what we had on screen to what we were seeing players do in internal playtests. Our early Bots were a bit like walking turrets, and we knew we wanted to get them behaving much more like players. We spent a lot of time discussing how Halo combat worked and why players do what they do in certain gameplay situations. Those conversations helped us isolate what actions we needed Bots to do to properly represent Halo gameplay.
Three Spartans run into battle in the map Live Fire. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
When you were kicking the whole process off for building Bots in Halo Infinite, what were some of your design tenants?
Sara Stern: There are a lot of fun ways you can use Bots, but our primary design goal is that Bots help players learn how to play Halo and serve as good practice partners. Knowing that made a lot of our other decisions easier. To facilitate learning, Bots need to be the best representation we can make of how players act in multiplayer. They need to move like players, shoot like players, use equipment like players, and so on. They should also use the same tools (or a representation of those tools) that players can so that a player can beat a Bot by getting better at using that tool than the Bot is. It’s why we avoid allowing Bots to “cheat” by using information that players don’t have access to.
As Bots continued to get their sea legs, what were some of the biggest difficulties to overcome?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: One of the things people might not think about was one of the harder things to do, and that was getting the Bots to show up in the game like players. They show up in the back button scoreboard, earn medals, have MMR, customizations, and so on. It’s really common for game code to make a distinction between “This is code that runs for players” and, “This is code that runs for an AI.” With Bots, we had this new thing that is both of those, and we needed code to run from each of those contexts. It was a very long road to get them well integrated into the experience, and I think it’s really paid off.
Ilana Franklin: One of the great parts of making multiplayer Bots for a game like Halo is we already have an incredible AI framework in place. However, multiplayer Bots are trying to solve fundamentally different problems than campaign AI. One of the challenges throughout development has been knowing when to leverage what we have, and when we need to come up with new solutions.
How did the team prioritize certain Bot behavior? When does it go out of its way to pick up a gun vs. when does it rush straight into battle off respawn?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: I think Bot decision-making can be simply framed by talking about the choices you make around the flag (in a game of CTF). Sometimes it’s appropriate to hold onto the flag and keep on running, even if you’re being shot at. In other situations, it’s better to drop the flag and try to defend yourself. The variables involved in that decision are numerous and complex. How much health do I have? How far away is the person shooting at me? How far away am I from the flag stand?
We’ve broken down all the high-level actions for the Bots (like running the objective, getting a new weapon, engaging in combat, etc.). We then assign each of those actions a value that’s based on a number of inputs, weighing each one a little differently, and then we choose what the optimal action to take at a given time is.
This is a tricky thing to get right. Getting a new weapon is pretty important if you’re low on ammo, and really important if you’re completely out of ammo. Finding the right balance of all these variables and how to rank them all against each other is as much a problem of human psychology as it is an engineering one, which has made it super interesting to work on.
Bots currently come in four flavors based on their inherent skill. Can you talk us through each and what the general differences and expectations are for each?
Sara Stern: We’ll have four Bot difficulties at launch: Recruit, Marine, ODST, and Spartan. Each of the difficulties is loosely modeled after the different skill levels a player reaches as they get better at playing Halo. You can’t really focus on how to strafe well if you’re still learning how to throw a grenade, and we put similar limitations on what each difficulty can do.
Recruit level Bots are the least challenging experience – they know how to perform each combat action, but they don’t react quickly in a firefight. Marine Bots are like players who are comfortable playing Halo, but they haven’t quite figured out the best way to strafe yet. ODST Bots are competent players that react well to player movement and know how to use equipment more aggressively. While this wasn’t enabled in the Technical Preview build, we’re experimenting with allowing Spartan Bots to communicate with one another about certain gameplay events (such as the location of enemy players).
The intent is that if you work up through each of the difficulties and feel comfortable against Spartan Bots, you’ll be able to hold your own against players in regular matchmaking. We’ll continue to iterate on the challenge and tuning of each difficulty as we get more player feedback. We may also introduce new levels of difficulty over time based on what players are interested in seeing from the Bots.
While they certainly still had their quirks, how did the team get them to feel like actual players?
Ilana Franklin: A big part of getting them to feel like actual players was the combat dance. Their combat movement is modelled after some very high skill players in the studio. Lower difficulty Bots focus on strafing, medium difficulties can jump but won’t crouch as often, higher skilled Bots can do both. Sara has done a lot of tuning to get that balance feeling right, resulting in the Bot combat dance which we affectionately refer to as the "Razzle Dazzle." Ultimately though, a lot of that human feel comes down to little behaviors that are more subtle. When you try to disengage from a Bot, they'll remember where they last saw you and try to hunt you down. When they have the Grappleshot, they'll look for openings to zip in for a melee attack, especially if they're holding a good close-range weapon. Higher level Bots will look for opportunities to backsmack if you're facing away from them. All those small details, along with many others, come together to make Bots play dynamically and make decisions like humans do.
Hollis Lehv: Bots will make different decisions depending on the situation they are in. This gives the impression that they are weighing the pros and cons of, for instance, continuing to fight or backing down, just like a human would. This also makes them more difficult to predict. Bots will also use equipment in similar ways to a player. For example, they’ll hold onto the Overshield until they see a player to fight against. The Bot names also make them feel like real people with distinct personalities.
A Spartan from Halo Infinite prepares to go to battle. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
On a less serious note, why are they so darn good with grenades?
Ilana Franklin: Like players, Bots understand that weapons need to be aimed differently. They'll aim the sniper rifle at their target's head, but try to shoot rockets at their target's feet.
Hollis Lehv: We modeled Bot grenade throwing after what a human player might do. If a grenade type bounces, Bots will throw it slightly in front of the target’s feet. Bots don’t have perfect aim, but they do consider the ways different grenades bounce and by how much, and they are quite quick to react to where a player is, which may contribute to their strong grenade use.
Sara Stern: When we implement a new feature, we try to get the Bots to perform at a high skill level so we can identify what the “ceiling” is for that behavior. We then reduce how effective they are for lower difficulties. We hadn’t done that enough for grenade throwing in the Technical Preview build.
When the decision was made to flight Bots in the Technical Preview, what were your initial thoughts?
Ilana Franklin: At first, I was really surprised! As I thought more about it, I realized it was a great move for an initial Technical Preview like this. It took the pressure off and gave people the opportunity to explore the sandbox for the first time without the stress of competing with each other. Obviously I'm biased though - I was also just ridiculously excited that we were finally putting Bots out there.
Hollis Lehv: I was personally extremely excited to see Bots front and center of the Technical Preview, and not just because I’m part of the Bots Team. They help players get acclimated to the game and give inexperienced players new ideas and strategies. I love that people who had never played a Halo game before were able to hold their own against the lower difficulty Bots and get a sense of what the game is like.
How did it feel to watch real Halo players battle against your creations, and have so much fun?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: So, I spent many long hours playing against AI as a kid. I wasn’t very competitive with other people, but I was very competitive with myself, and I loved any game that had Bots for me to play with. It’s one of the reasons I started learning about programming and game development. So finally seeing people playing against something I’ve been able to help bring into being literally made me tear up a bit. Seeing people enjoy something you’ve worked really hard on is an incredible feeling.
Ilana Franklin: It was emotional for me too. I know that Bots are something that I find essential in competitive multiplayer games, especially when I'm first starting out, but I acknowledge that I'm not the best at first-person shooters. I was really humbled by how excited players of all skill levels were to finally have Bots in a Halo game. I loved seeing all the memes and clips that people posted of crazy plays that Bots were making. Especially all the Grappleshot Gravity Hammer clips, it was really fun to see code that I wrote getting kills in the real world.
Hollis Lehv: It was very surreal to see streamers I’ve been watching for years play against Bots for the first time and give feedback on features I have contributed to. I am proud of the team for getting Bots to such a strong place where the feedback has been so positive.
What were some key learnings from the Technical Preview?
Sara Stern: We knew going into the Technical Preview that the Bots had some bugs and odd behaviors, but I don’t think we appreciated the extent to which some of them were impacting their ability to get on the scoreboard. They were predictable off initial spawn and often ignored important map pickups. These behaviors made it hard for Bots to compete against players who had fully stocked up on power weapons and equipment, and we’re looking for ways we can improve Bot performance in this area in the future.
Brie Chin-Deyerle: I was excited to validate that our backend for calculating Bot skills relative to players was operating as intended. We did notice the Spartans did feel a little easier than the ODSTs, and it was awesome to have both that quantitative data along with all the qualitative data we got from the community. I think one of my biggest takeaways was seeing how many creative ways groups of humans could exploit certain Bot behaviors, and we definitely have some work to do to clean up some of those edge cases.
During the course of development, has an Infinite Bot ever done something unexpected that truly surprised you?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: During the Technical Preview, a Bot stole a Needler I was about to pick up from a weapon locker with a Grappleshot, because they missed an attempt to Grappleshot backsmack with a Gravity Hammer. Then they killed me with my Needler. I went from being very impressed to very salty.
Ilana Franklin: There have been a couple times in playtest where I’ve seen a Bot get a Fastball. I’ve never been able to do that, so they’ve already surpassed me.
Thanks for joining us today, Bots Team! Before you go though, any closing words for our players?
Brie Chin-Deyerle: Can I just say: Thank you all for the amazing memes and clips about Bots. Literally a highlight of my career. The Bots also asked me to say they are looking forward to playing many more games against you all!
Sara Stern: Thank you to everyone who played in the Technical Preview and sent in feedback. The data we got back from the weekend has been invaluable and we’re already putting it to use to make the Bots better.
Thank you, Bots Team, for taking the time to walk us through your process. It was humbling having ODST’s drop grenades directly at our feet, but going toe-to-toe with your creations over the course of the Tech Preview was a joy – and, we’re thankful for all of your hard work.
Now, to proverbially go ‘round the horn and hear from the rest of the studio! In this edition of Tales from the Trenches we’ve got a few stories from around the studio, including one that nearly resulted in newly-found super powers. Enjoy.
TALES FROM THE TRENCHES
Welcome to Tales from the Trenches – a section where members from all around 343 provide us their stories about Halo Infinite’s development, and some of the more exciting things they’ve seen as of late. In this month’s edition we have just one story – but, it’s epic enough to claim the space. This time, we hear from Brian Dunn, who’s known affectionately around the studio as “Beard.”
Over the course of an event like a Tech Preview, we often find ourselves in what’s known as a “War Room”, where we work through every single step of the process – from firing the servers up, to confirming social media posts, and everything single thing in-between. In this case, Beard had to step away due to having a close run-in with nature – and, a subsequent bevy of shots to make sure he hadn’t developed rabies on his way to newfound super powers. But, perhaps this is one best heard from his perspective.
“Here’s what actually happened. 2 AM on Friday morning I woke up to what sounded like a large bug. I ignored it at first because I have a cat and cats eat bugs. It wasn’t until later I got woken enough to realize the buzzing sound was a flapping sound. A bird this time of night? Can’t be. That’s when I realized it was a bat. So, I did what any confident guy would do. I hid under the covers and posted to Facebook asking if anyone knew how to get a bat out of the house. When no immediate help came from Facebook, I decided I would throw the blanket over my head and crouch walk out of the room. The bat would surely find its way out eventually. The next morning, I went in and saw the bat hanging between my window and the screen, so I gingerly closed the window and then karate chopped the screen out. It flew away without any incident.
The CDC then told me that because I didn’t know if I had come into contact with the bat while asleep that I would need a run of the Rabies vaccine. I attended several War Room meetings while on the phone waiting for the vaccine to arrive, and even watched some of you play on Twitch as well. Once the vaccine arrived, they gave me one shot in the arm, and then told me that the easiest way to get the other four shots was to do them all at once. So, four nurses showed up and proceeded to give me all four shots of antibodies at once. I felt like a nuke silo. The good news in all of this is that I did clarify with one of the nurses that the Rabies vaccine in no way would affect the superpowers I expect to get in a few weeks.
This is way less exciting than what other people have produced though. The War Room had a lot of fun with my story and I’m happy I could bring a little comical relief to a stressful weekend for everyone.” -Brian “Beard” Dunn, Quality Engineer
And now, to close things out, we've got a fresh update from Halo Infinite's Head of Creative, Joseph Staten - who, you may have recently saw on Gamescom's Opening Night Live presentation. While he was on the flight back to Seattle from Los Angeles, he had a few thoughts he wanted to share.
Joseph, take it away.
UPDATE FROM THE FLIGHT DECK
Concept art from the Season 1 Cinematic Intro for Halo Infinite Multiplayer. [To download the above image in full res, click here.]
I’m currently streaking through the lower stratosphere, on a late-night flight back to Seattle from Los Angeles, having just finished representing the great work of the whole Halo Infinite team on the Gamescom: Opening Night Live broadcast. It feels terrific to finally reveal our launch date, and we hope you enjoyed meeting Commander Agryna, who you’ll be getting to know much better as we start unspooling the Season-to-Season story of Halo Infinite Multiplayer.
Before boarding my flight, I had a chance to read some of the commentary online, and I definitely hear the disappointment about not seeing Campaign gameplay on the broadcast. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to: (1) shed light on why we chose not to show Campaign right now and (2) assuage your concerns about where Campaign is at this point in the production process.
As I mentioned in last week’s Development Update, the whole Halo Infinite team is in shutdown mode. This means we’re done with feature work and focused on crushing high-priority bugs. We’re spending lots of time playing the game, verifying fixes, and generally doing all we can to ensure Campaign (and Multiplayer!) plays great on all platforms—from an original, 8-year-old Xbox One to a brand new, ultra-spec PC. This is a very challenging task, even for a large and experienced team.
In many ways, shutting down a game is like being on final approach to landing an airplane. And if you’ll forgive a bit of aviation-geekery, the entirety of the team is essentially in a “sterile cockpit,” which is to say: we’re at a critical phase in the flight that is Halo Infinite, so it’s extremely important to avoid distractions and stay focused on mission-critical tasks only. For Campaign, that means putting maximum effort into ensuring the wide-open, adventure-filled experience you’ll all get to play on December 8th is a great as it can possibly be. And gameplay demos and trailers not only take a huge amount of effort to do well, they also take cycles away from bugs and other shutdown tasks.
I would like to share, however, that right before I left for Los Angeles, I had to pause a full playthrough of Campaign that I started late last week. I’m going for a 100% run, which means completing all primary and secondary missions, finding all collectibles etc. I’ve played Infinite’s Campaign multiple times. But every time I do, I always find something new, tucked away on Zeta Halo. Sometimes these are quiet little bits of environmental storytelling, such as an abandoned but desperately defended Marine recon post, high on a lonely mountainside (fortunately, the Banished missed the fully loaded S7 sniper rifle that the Marines left behind). Sometimes these are combat encounters with deviously polished scripting, for example: a UNSC forward operating base that seemed abandoned… until I heard the laughter and taunts of multiple, energy sword-wielding and cloaked Elites, as I stumbled into their trap.
I hope all of you take comfort from the fact that, honestly, I can’t wait to get back home, fire up the build, and hit “Continue” on the Campaign. No matter how many times I play, Halo Infinite remains, fundamentally, super fun to play—and we’re very eager to share all the fun with you through captured gameplay, trailers, and other content once we get this plane safely on the ground. But for now, it’s focus-time in the cockpit as we stick the landing. Please, keep those seatbelts fastened, and thank you for your patience and support.
-Joseph Staten, Head of Creative for Halo Infinite